Hoping to catch the next world record at Dixon? Want to bend the rod on some lunkers at Piru? Get ready to take on Southern California's awesome lakes in 2008. (February
Photo by Bill Schaefer.
The new bass-fishing season is upon us, and we're all hoping for a banner year. Last year, a lake record was broken, and a lot of nice fish were caught in Southern California.
What will this year bring? The forecast is for another hot year, weather-wise, and that means more days on the water chasing your favorite prey.
Lakes biologist Larry Bottroff knows largemouth bass and Southern California lakes as few others do.
"We didn't get very definitive numbers for the San Diego lakes in 2007," said Bottroff. "But overall, it was a good year of fishing. Populations of bass may be down a tad, and sizes of catches could have been better with better water conditions, but all the lakes had some nicer fish."
Then there are the big-bass hunters who don't report all, trying to save a lake for themselves.
COMING RIGHT UP . . .
Let's take a look at the forecast for this year's largemouth season.
Bass professionals, big-fish hunters and biologists said that if 2008 is anything like 2007, we should all be in for a banner year of bass fishing in Southern California.
The bass lakes in Southern California may lack size, but we have a number of bass-producing lakes that many fishermen haven't even discovered yet.
The largest of lake in Southern California, Diamond Valley Lake, is one top spot you should try this year.
Hot mid-size lakes include San Vicente, El Capitan, Lake Hodges, Lake Otay, Lake Castaic, and Lake Casitas, to name a few.
Smaller impoundments include Lake Dixon, the only lake known to definitely hold the world-record bass. Other small big-bass waters include lakes Jennings, Cuyamaca, Murray, Piru and Wohlford.
This past year, a lot of bass in the 10- to 15-pound range were caught in Southern California, but none made it into the Top 10 Heaviest List. To make the Top 10, you see, it takes at least a 20-pounder.
To make the top 25, it takes one heavier than 18 pounds, 13 ounces. And an amazing 22 of those 25 fish were caught in Southern California. Florida holds two spots, and George Perry's record fish from Georgia has the other out-of-state record.
Let's look at some of Southern California fishermen's favorite lakes.
Diamond Valley Lake in Riverside County is one of the spring's top producing lakes. Although the fish tend to live a little deeper than those at other impoundments, they still come to the shallows to spawn. This year's spring should bring more giant fish to the scales.
Big-bass hunter Mike Long added to his list of record largemouth catches in 2007. He caught the new lake record here, a 16.43-pound bass. He fooled the fish with a Rago Real Trout swim bait.
For baits, plastics to crankbaits rule here. Trolling crankbaits can score both bass and trout. Drop-shot rigs and Texas-rigged worms work well in the deeper waters.
There also are trout in this lake, so bring the trout look-a-like lures. Remember what caught the lake record!
The dams here are the largest earthen dams in the West. They're covered with giant granite boulders, and the fish love to hide in and around them. Bouncing or swimming a jig down the face of them can work almost year 'round.
Lake Dixon in Escondido is a tiny speck of a lake on the map of California. But it's the only lake anywhere where we know for sure that a world-record bass swims.
As we all know, a 25-pounder was accidentally snagged in March of 2006. That fish was weighed, photographed and returned to the lake. In 2007, the springtime spawn at the lake brought fishermen out of the woodwork trying to find her again, but none succeeded.
A lot of nice fish were taken, but the locals remained tight-lipped about it.
Maybe this year, the fishing will return to normal. The lake does hold two spots on the Top 10 list of largemouths, both over 20 pounds. The lake has a great springtime spawn bite, and that's when the big-fish chasers descend on the lake.
The rest of the year, the lake holds its own in numbers of fish caught, but the giant females tend to disappear off into the depths.
All the old standards work well here, with cranks for hard baits and drop-shot rigging with plastics. Of course, the trout imitations lead the way in the spring.
Lake Otay in southern San Diego County has always produced some larger fish and fishes very well in the pre-spawn time of year. Cranks and Rattling Spots are great this time of year. Jigs hold their own as well in this crawdad-rich lake. Trout plants have been newly introduced to this lake too and may help some of the larger fish grow to enormous proportions.
Shaking Texas-rigged worms, drop-shotting deep points or dropoffs work well here. Jerkbaits, both soft and hard, score here too. In the summer and fall, the bass school up and chase shad around the lake, making for exciting topwater action.
If the moss grows to the surface, frogs can be fun; bass explode on them as they pass open holes. This lake is definitely the sleeper on the list to watch this year.
Lake Casitas is another lake well known for producing giant bass. It had a great season in 2007.
"As usual, there were a lot of nice fish caught on swimbaits this year," said touring professional Stan Vanderburg. "Casitas can be good all year, though, with good fish coming on plastics fished Texas-rigged or drop-shot rigged."
This is a lake where the bass move a lot as they chase shad around.
"Learn where the bait has traveled and the patterns they follow, and you can just follow the bass around too and catch some," said Vanderburg. You'll need to learn patience on this lake. Sluggos, Senkos, or flukes are also great here, but blades can really clean house at times.
Lake Castaic is another lake that's had its bad years but is on a serious rebound. Sound lake management and a strong practice of catch-and-release have helped this lake return to years of old. You may not have heard anything yet because the regulars don't broadcast it.
The slot limit has helped fishing greatly here, and this lake will prove it this year. It is a little bit rockier than Casitas, and the fish will key on the rockpiles. The big bass also key in on the shad schools, and you have to find the bait to score here.
Lake Piru is another sleeper lake to watch closely this year. Last year, not many giants were caught, but a ton of 5- to 10-pound fish were. Anglers also weighed 10-pound-plus bass -- but many by regulars, so you probably didn't hear about them.
Since the fish key in on shad at this lake as well, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, and jerkbaits, both soft and hard, can really produce quickly. At times, the summer surface action at this lake can be non-stop.
One other lake I have to talk about, home to many bass that were transferred to other impoundments, is Lake Hodges.
Biologist Larry Bottroff has been keeping a close eye on this lake and feels that this could be the year the lake returns to its glory days.
"The population is way up and almost the same as the good old days," said Bottroff. "But lowering water levels will quickly change the bite at all the lakes, including Hodges.
"The fish here need the tules and relate to and rely on them greatly."
Lake Hodges has a very diverse shoreline. Rockpiles, tules, trees, brush and gravel shores -- every type of structure a bass fisherman could want. The bass here grow big, and trout have never been planted, so they are just plain healthy and giant on their own.
Fish grown here have been transported to other lakes to start them off with a strong stocking. Diamond Valley Lake is just one lake that has benefited from Hodges-strain bass. Their record largemouth is tied for 10th place on the all-time list.
To make the Top 25 Heaviest Bass List, it takes one heavier than 18 pounds, 13 ounces.
An amazing 22 of
those 25 fish were caught in
The fish here will eat every lure in your tackle box. So go with the flow, and you should score well at this impoundment. If the water comes up and gets way back into the tules, you will really see this lake regenerate itself!
And finally, I just have to mention Pyramid. This lake can be hot for smallmouth, and in April and May the fishing can be out of this world!
Plastics, both drop-shot and Texas-rigged, will also score some surface action. And don't leave the hard baits and blades at home, either.
Hopefully, your boat has already gone through its prep stage for the new season. Batteries are checked and running strong? Trolling motor works well? Electronics ready to go?
A lot of fishermen don't realize that unless the transducer on your boat is shooting through the hull, it needs to be cleaned off every so often. If there is a temperature sensor, it needs cleaning as well.
Another important item that too many of us forget to check is the livewell. You don't want to turn it on in a tourney and find out that it isn't pumping water just when you need it most.
All throughout the past season, lures, tackle, and miscellaneous items have made their way out of their normal storage bins and into a rod locker, glove compartment, or onto the floor. Get organized and you'll be able to fish more efficiently and not waste time trying to remember where you put a lure or some bait. It also keeps you from purchasing more lures only to find three packs of them you forgot about.
Some lures are really getting up there price-wise, so finding your secret stash can save you a lot of extra money.
I wanted to let you in on a few lures that produced greatly for some of the top pros and big-fish hunters as well. We all know how much swimbaits have caught on, and some of the new ones are simply amazing.
Basstrix has come out with a Paddle-tail swim bait
that has been all the rage of many tournament trails catching giant stringers of fish.
Black Dog Baits' new Lunker Punker, a spook-type bait, is flying off the shelves of tackle stores -- and selling on eBay for amazing prices. No one can keep them in stock!
Black Dog Baits' new Shell Cracker surface lure is also new, hot bait that both the pros and the big-fish hunters are using to score. Stores can't get enough of them.
Rago Baits also has added a new line to their baits.
"Rago has now jointed their baits in three places, instead of two," said big-fish hunter David Conway. "The four body parts give the baits the most realistic action."
Already one of the top baits around, Rago Baits have really caught on strong.
It really matters what the spring weather does and what the rains do for our lakes. We all know that if the lakes rise, so do the bass, in a sense, gravitating to the shoreline structure and brush. Spinnerbaits, Senkos, soft jerkbaits, and all those shallow-water lures you love should be in the boat along with you.
The largemouths will have a better spawn and produce more fish for you to catch. They will survive longer with more brush for the fry to hide in. This will help the fishing this year and for many more to come.
Southern California will still keep producing giant bass for those who learn to fish for them with all the new baits out there. Those who want to catch bigger and better bass need to read more articles, attend more seminars, and just get out and fish.
I wish you all a great year and hope that your personal best bass weight is broken several times -- and pounds -- over!